Raw Materials

The American Heritage Dictionary defines jewelry as “ornaments, such as bracelets, necklaces, or rings, made of precious metals set with gems or imitation gems.” That last part may need some tweaking, especially lately—as the list of jewelry materials grows to include a wider variety of nontraditional items. Consider the following:

Designer Liz McLean Knight found she could use her background—and objects already in her apartment—to create innovative jewelry. An electronic musician, she began thinking about jewelry while experimenting with “circuit bending”—modifying the circuitry of toy electronics.

“I had a bunch of capacitors and diodes lying around,” she tells JCK. “I made a few pieces and wore them to my performances and DJ nights.” Now available on Web sites such as www.fractalspin.com, the collection, which she calls Zelle, includes necklaces, bracelets, wallets, and cufflinks. Some Zelle items, like the Cat5 bracelet, made from Ethernet strands, are colorful and feminine. Others, like the Eprom necklace, made from a memory chip hung from a cord, are starker and more modern.

For those who prefer a more personal, organic, and, um, bodily feel to their jewelry (think Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton’s vial-of-blood necklaces), Tobie Kerridge and Nikki Stott of London offer biojewellery.

Biojewellery takes bone cells from the jaw and regenerates them into small circular bones that are worn as rings. “We were interested in applying [human tissue] material to artifacts which already had a degree of intimacy and symbolism for the wearer,” Kerridge tells JCK. The process, which takes months, ideally begins during a routine operation, like wisdom teeth removal. The extracted cells are then guided into a ring shape through the use of a bioactive ceramic scaffold. Finally the inner circumference of the bone is bound with a piece of silver, which can be engraved. They chose rings as their products because, Kerridge says, “Rings are extremely rich, there is the exchange of rings between lovers, the shape of the circle [is] something eternal, the notion of a ring [is] a display of identity.” The project has attracted couples looking for an especially individual way to express connection and commitment.

The aesthetics of both the Zelle line and biojewellery are surprisingly mild and attractive. Zelle has modern, clean lines, and biojewellery is simple and resembles ivory. But these new forms of jewelry are more about the messages they send and questions they provoke. What does it mean to wear pieces of a computer or parts of a body? What do these pieces imply about the wearer’s personality? And, finally: Can you wear your boyfriend’s jaw to a black-tie event?